Wednesday, November 26, 2008

10 Tips to Remember When Shopping on Black Friday!

Black Friday shopping has been a tradition in my family for as long as I can remember. And while I didn't actually get to go shopping until I was in high school, I can remember the year my mother and my aunts went after those $99 tvs. We still have one in our kitchen...

Black Friday shopping is not easy, nor is it for the faint of heart. Follow my tips and you'll be shopping like a pro in no time!

  1. Strategy, strategy, strategy. You don't go on a vacation without learning about the major attractions, so why would you go shopping without a plan? Start with your gift list, then comb through the ads, several times if need be, to find the appropriate gifts/bargains. Then, figure out what stores you're going to go to. If you're going after a Doorbuster (an awesome bargain that normally sells out quickly), make sure you hit that store as soon as it opens. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to go here first. For example, we usually go to Kohl's first since it opens at 4, then head over to Target and stand in line, since it opens at 6.
  2. Carts are for amateurs and pregnant women. And since at least one of my sisters has been pregnant for the past three years, they get the cart. If you're running for a doorbuster, don't make the mistake of stopping for a cart. Run to the department (usually electronics!!), elbow, push, and yell until you get your item, THEN run back for the cart. If you're going for a big-ticket item like a tv, the salespeople will actually bring it up to the register for you on a flatbed. Remember: Deals first, then cart, then general shopping.
  3. Bring your ads with you. If there's a price discrepancy or you simply can't remember which model you want, the ads are a lifesaver. Don't count on the stores to supply them.
  4. Stick to your list (if you're a list kind of person). With the bargains being overwhelming and the atmosphere impulsive, resist buying things just because they are cheap. If you're not going to use it, you haven't saved any money.
  5. Hit as many stores up as possible. As long as you're up to it (and you still have money left), all stores have some great bargains. Most of the time, smaller shops don't even advertise. For example, one year I was making fleece blankets for Tom's brothers. I knew Hancock Fabrics was having a 50% off fleece sale. I headed over then when it opened (10 am!), and since I was one of the first 10 people (inadvertently), the manager gave me a $10 off coupon. Holla!
  6. Stay organized. Check people off your list once you've bought their presents. By the time you get home and you're showing off your purchases, you'll be pulling out stuff you forgot you bought. Happens every year.
  7. Bring a friend. Black Friday shopping is always more fun with someone else. Sometimes it gets difficult when you need different stores, or different departments, but it's totally worth it to have someone to help you when you second-guess yourself.
  8. Drink sparingly. Weird one, no? Every BF morning, I stop at Dunkin' Donuts to get coffee/hot chocolate for the group. The catch? We consume it while either waiting in line, or when browsing leisurely through Kohl's. We always have our hands open when we hit Target. (See #2). Plus, who wants to be making tons of bathroom breaks??
  9. Beware of mail-in rebates. They can make for a great bargain, but you need to be really organized to be sure you have the rebate form, a copy of your receipt, and the UPC label. And if you're giving the item away as a gift, you can kiss that UPC label goodbye.
  10. Be sure to get gift receipts. In the frenzy of check-out, this can often slip your mind. While you're waiting in line, start figuring out how many you'll need, and tell the cashier right away. At some stores, you can't get a gift receipt once you've paid.

Good luck & Happy Thanksgiving! Be sure to report back to me with all your great bargains!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Our Photographer!

Well, we received word recently that our contract/deposit has been received, so I can officially announce our photographer!

Please meet the amazing work of the lovely Kara Schultz, owner of Karatography:

(All images from Karatography)
I think it's pretty easy to see why once we saw her work, we just had to book!! And, it's also fairly evident what a sucker I am for photojournalism and fine art photography!

Another "Should I Buy?"

So I'm not really sure why I feel it's necessary to buy the accessories to my dress 18 months out. Maybe it makes me feel productive. Maybe it gives me something tangible to stare at since my lovely dress is boxed up beneath my bed.

Who knows.

But, keeping my new hair comb and my dress in mind, what do you all think of these earrings??

I know they look super huge, but they're really only 1.5"(a little smaller than your thumb).

You're looking at your thumb, aren't you? I knew it.

Anywho, they're on, a site I've been perusing (read: stalking) for quite a while. And they're only $29.99. Maybe I could even have someone buy them for me as a Christmas present, hint hint, wink wink, Mother!!

Any thoughts from the peanut gallery?

Monday, November 24, 2008

We're Getting Closer...

I received another catering proposal today. Again, pretty satisfied with this one. Even though it's almost $4,000, it offers everything we want from the day. I'm feeling pretty zen right now, not stressing out about the numbers, but I'm sure once it hits me, I won't be able to put down my calculator.

Anywho, this is what it includes:

  • Crab rangoon (Tom's fave)
  • Bacon-wrapped dates (my fave)
  • Mini deep dish pizzas (yum - and cute!)

Carving station:

  • Grilled beef tenderloin & seasoned turkey breast, served with rolls, bread, flavored mayos, etc.

Mashed potato martini bar, served with everything a girl can dream about!


  • Grilled veggie display (switching this out to a Bruschetta bar!!)
  • Pizza triangles (Wild mushroom, proscuitto and spinach, goat cheese, pine nuts)

Sweets Display:

  • Homemade cookies
  • Mini fruit tarts
  • Chocolate truffles
  • Chocolate dipped strawberries
  • Eclaires
  • Chocolate mousse cups
  • Cheesecake triangles
  • Mini cannolies
  • and a plethora of after-dinner mints

This also includes the beer, wine, soda bar with 2 "specialty drinks," the appletini (mine!), and the Cuba Libre (Tom's --- basically a dressed up Rum & Coke).

Delish, no??

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Budget Secret #1

One word: Etsy.

Etsy is a cross between eBay and a giant, online craft show.

Each vendor sets up a "shop" where they sell homemade items, and occasionally, vintage stuff. And because this stuff is all homemade, the prices are not neccessarily cheaper than their store bought counterparts, but sometimes it is. And when its not, you can be assured that the quality makes it totally worth it.

Where else can you order custom linen napkins?

Or paintings/prints from budding artists? This is one of my favorites on the site, OlaDesigns. I just love the whimsy of her work, and plan to incorporate her stuff into my future home design :)

And don't forget the bath & beauty category. Homemade soaps, lotions, mousses, etc.

Check out this holiday cranberry soap:

Umm...delicious? This would make a great hostess gift if you bought a few bars and wrapped them up in a cute, gilded basket. Holla!

One other plus to Etsy, if this is your thing, is the commitment to organics. Since most of the sellers tend to be "off the grid" types, most of them use organic ingredients and recyclables. For instance, the hair comb I bought was shipped with recyclable packaging. Most of the beauty products sold on there (including soaps) are free of harsh chemicals.

It's pretty easy to get overwhelmed with everything offered on etsy. I recommend using the category tabs on the left if you're just browsing, and using the "Alchemy" tool if you're looking for something specific. "Alchemy" is basically a classified ad: You (the buyer) posts what you're looking for, and a crafter will contact you if they can make it, along with the price. It's pretty awesome. Check out Etsy if you have the time!

Looking for Opinions...

**Update**: I bought this. A moment of boredom and unusual bravery overtook my indecisiveness. I probably should have checked out the return policy first...

I really like this...I think it might be just the right amount of sparkle. But, since I'm not completely sure what I'm doing with my hair, I don't know if it's a good idea to buy it.

It's only $18.00, though. Opinions??

Also, while I have your attention, what do you think about this Save-the-Date??

It's our absolute favorite movie! :) Too cliche??

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I'm Lucky I'm Good at Darts...

After working with these caterers, I have a feeling that we might be reducing the guest list.

I'm actually kidding, because there are absolutely no "frivolous" guests on our lists. We really have no way to cut, which is depressing. More guests = more tables. More tables = more linens & centerpieces. More linens & centerpieces = overspending the budget.

Maybe we'll win the lottery in the next 18 months??

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Happy Birthday, Tom!

Happy 22nd Birthday to Tom!

Oh, don't cry, Tom. Getting older really isn't all that bad!

PS - Sorry for putting up this picture on your birthday, but I couldn't resist. :)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Photographer - Check!

Yesterday we met with 2 photographers who had made our "short list." It was great to meet them both, especially within a shortened amount of time, so we could make easier comparisons on work, price, personality, etc. Plus, we got to see some albums in person, which was nice. I guess I wasn't expecting them to be as great as they were, and now I want one :(

Anyway, we decided on the photographer about 2 minutes after getting into the car, and are in the process of sending in the contract and deposit. Exciting stuff :)

Once everything's completely "official," I'll definitely post a few of her pics and link up to her website or blog so you all can enjoy the goodness!

So besides her being friendly and helpful as well as the quality of her work, we were impressed by everything offered in her package. For a great price (well within budget), this is what we're getting:
  • 2 engagement sessions (in case 1 doesn't turn out well or we wanted to do them at different times of the year)
  • Unlimited photography the day of the wedding (great since we'll be there in the morning and are potentially having an after-party)
  • A post-session (in case we don't have time for all the "artistic" type photos that I want the day of the wedding --- allowing us more flexibility to spend more time with the guests...
  • Printing rights to ALL of our pictures, sent to us on DVD within 6 weeks of the wedding, once they've been edited and retouched

I really loved the option of having the printing rights, because I thought that not only would we have ALL of our pictures in a great medium for sharing (via blog, email, website, etc.), we can also purchase our prints when it's financially convenient --- there's no rush to spend hundreds of dollars on prints weeks after the wedding. Plus, as we move into new and different houses, we can always conveniently order more to fit the new spaces...

The option also allows us to extend the printing rights to family and friends. Prints can either be distributed and ordered through us, or they can be ordered through her. What Tom and I were really impressed with was that she doesn't price the additional prints to make profit, so those are really affordable as well.

All in all, we're pretty happy, and looking forward to the engagement sessions next year :)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Catering Proposal - Take 2

So even though my mind's quieted down a bit since yesterday, I still can't get over that number. Well, 5 numbers, to be exact. Twice the amount of my student loans. A year of college tuition.

So in a mad rush to distract myself with other numbers, I started frantically contacting all the other caterers on the preferred list. Either the proposals will be more reasonable, or I'll just learn that goat-cheese stuffed cherry tomatoes really do cost $1,000.

While at work today, I received a phone call from one of said caterers. I found the woman to be extremely pleasant and personable. As I began to discuss the nightmare of yesterday, I found her to be extremely professional --- she wasn't trying to pry, but was trying to figure out what our real budget is, and where I felt yesterday's quote went wrong. I give her credit for not laughing when I told her what the actual budget was.

All in all, we had a really pleasant chat about the flow and logistics of cocktail receptions, and she gave me lots of advice on the ins and outs of the Danada House, amounts of food, seating arrangements and bar menus. I'm really crossing my fingers that her proposal will be much closer to our budget, as I really heard an air of confidence in her that I liked.

And above all, I'd rather have knowledgeable, confident vendors that I can trust rather than vendors trying to save a buck and cutting corners.

We even talked about moving the ceremony time up to 1:30, that way it's a bit more clear that we're having an afternoon reception. Fine by me :)

So I guess now I just wait. Next week we should have several more quotes coming in from various caterers, so I should have a good base of comparison.

And this Sunday, Tom and I are meeting with 2 photographers. With any luck, we could have everything signed up and confirmed before the end of the month!!! :)

Happy Weekend Everybody!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Inhale, Exhale, Repeat.

Oh man. Oh jeez. Whooo. Aaaahhh. I can't (gasp) seem to get (gasp) enough air over here (gasp).

I just received the first "official" quote from one of the many (and by many, I mean 8) caterers we're interviewing. And by interviewing, I mean being tortured by.

It seriously just feels like someone has sucked all the air out of the room. Melodramatic...maybe. But really, I'm absolutely shaking right now.

By now, I'm sure you've realized that this was not a good quote. Nope. The quote, not including 15% gratuity, is almost 3 TIMES our budget!!! 3!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Granted it includes absolutely EVERYTHING we want, including the mashed potato martini bar, the custom groom's cake, the 3 signature cocktails, the made-to-order salad station, the fruit & fresh cream bar, gourmet coffee bar, countless hor d'oeurves, and a wedding coordinator, I just wasn't expecting the final number to be more than a new car. A very expensive new car.

And now comes the fork in the road. Of course we'll be entertaining quotes from the other 7 vendors (well, probably 6 because I might have offended one by calling her "Susan" instead of "Diane" in an email...whoops), but the likelihood is that they'll all be just as expensive.

At first glance, the quote seemed very reasonable. The food and beverages were almost on budget. But as I continued to scroll down, I saw more numbers. $12 for napkins for the bread baskets. $0.50 per fork. And we need a lot of forks. $600 just for table linens. $100 for fresh flower garnishes for the buffet table.

Oh man, here comes the panic attack again. Oh no. Aaargh.

Excuse me while I go hyperventilate into a brown paper bag.

PS - Did I mention the quote was higher than the ENTIRE wedding budget?? Ughhhhhh.

Saving Paper...

Even though I LOVE the idea of the cute menu card tucked lovingly into the envelope-style folded napkin on the dinner plate, it seems almost to be a bit silly for a cocktail reception. In the very least, it would be a ton of paper wasted, too.

So instead, how about something cute like this:

I would probably be so nervous about the chalk rubbing off that I might actually paint it myself, but we'll see. I could see this being pretty easy to do, considering the thrift store always has a collection of large artwork that people don't want. I'll just pick up a frame for $10 from them, get some MDF board from Hobby Lobby, and pick up a can of chalkboard paint. Voila!!

We could also tie that in with the seating chart:

(via Style Me Pretty)

If I was really feeling crafty, I could probably design both similarly on paper, and have them printed at Kinko's so they matched...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cute Bar Menus...

So I'm not really in the mood to write today. Instead, you can gaze at 2 cute bar ideas. I would love to do something like either of these...

Monday, November 10, 2008

My Own Personal Olympian...

Most of you, especially those of you who have known Tom since high school, have seen the dramatic difference in his physical stature over the past five years. It's really been the last two years, however, that have made a dramatic impact onto his physique. Ever since the accident with his ankle in Feb. '07, Tom has been forced to rely on his upper body. This has brought about major changes in the way he competes, trains and practices. As such, he's been garnering much more attention from coaches and trainers.

As a component to his training program, Tom has launched a blog where he interacts with other throwers, weight lifters, and fitness enthusiasts. In a recent post, Tom reveals his career aspirations. And let me tell you, they're pretty amazing. In addition to finding a personal coach and trainer, Tom plans on competing in the professional circuit from 2011-2016. Below is an excerpt from his blog:

"Ultimately in a perfect world ( we all know how that never happens) I would like to end my career representing the USA at the 2016 games in front of my hometown of Chicago."

So there you have it, folks. The normally quiet, modest Tom has revealed his ultimate goals. And I could not be more proud. :-)

If you have some time, head on over to his blogs. Weight lifting exercises and run-on sentences aside, he occasionally posts some pretty sweet and profound thoughts about us and the wedding...

Friday, November 7, 2008

Ceremony Reading

One of the main reasons Tom and I decided to pursue a secular outdoor ceremony was because we had the freedom to choose the readings, vows and music that we felt defined us best, rather than choosing from a predefined list of readings and music.

Controversial, maybe. But in the end, the day is about the beginning of our marriage, and we want it to accurately reflect our relationship.

Below is an excerpt from a ceremony that I fell in love with once I read it. I'm posting it here not only to share it, but also so I never lose it! :-)

What do you all think??

"Union" by Robert Fulghum

You have known each other for years, through the first glance of acquaintance to this moment of commitment. At some moment, you decided to marry. From that moment of yes to this moment of yes, indeed, you have been making promises and agreements in an informal way. All those conversations that were held riding in a car or over a meal or during long walks - all those sentences that began with "When we’re married" and continued with "I will" and "you will" and "we will" - those late night talks that included "someday" and "somehow" and "maybe" - and all those promises that are unspoken matters of the heart. Just two people working out what they want, what they believe, what they hope for each other. All these common things, and more, are the real process of a wedding. The symbolic vows that you are about to make are a way of saying to one another, "You know all those things we’ve promised and hoped and dreamed - well, I meant it all, every word." Look at one another and remember this moment in time. Before this moment you have been many things to one another - acquaintance, friend, companion, lover, dancing partner, and even teacher, for you have learned much from one another in these last few years. You have learned that good company and friendship count for more than good looks. And you’ve learned that marriage is a maze into which we wander – a maze that is best got through with a great companion. Now you shall say a few words that take you across a threshold of life, and things will never quite be the same between you. For after these vows, you shall say to the world, this - is my husband, this - is my wife.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Contract...

I don't think I've ever been more excited to receive a contract than I was yesterday. While seeing the pricing information wasn't so pleasant, it was good to see our names (albeit spelled wrong) with an official date next to them.

It's been a long time in coming, I can assure you. Poor Tom has probably endured 3 years of wedding talk, and that's a conservative estimate. I guess it's fairly easy to see how indecisive I really am when you factor in that we picked out 3 different engagement rings, 6 different wedding venues, 2 completely different color schemes, upwards of 10 wedding dates, and countless ideas associated with all of it.

So when I say that this is much more than just a contract, I mean it. More than just a legal agreement, it's a physical embodiment of this planning process, which can be so cerebral.

So, with the first major decision made, signed off on, and partially paid for, it's onward in the planning process for us. And it feels really, really good. :)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Voting Results...

The people have spoken, and winners have been elected. Without further ado, I bring you the findings of our drink poll:

With the most votes: Appletini, Pina Colada, Strawberry Margarita & Blue Hawaiians.
In second: Cuba Libre & "Other," whatever those may be...
In third, the underdog Mojito.
In fourth, with an astounding 0 votes, the cosmo.

So, I guess we'll definitely be serving the Appletini, since my vote is always the tie breaker, and I'll have Tom choose from one of the frozen beverages. We'll probably serve the Cuba Libre, too, as that's what he drinks (though he doesn't actually know that that's what it's called...).

Now we just have to decide if we'll have the caterer buy and serve the alcohol, or if we'll buy and they serve. I guess the only thing we can do is price it out and go from there...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Grand Announcement!

After a fair bit of wrestling, a 27-email exchange, and a little blood, sweat and tears, Tom and I are now the proud owners of a wedding date at the Danada House.

It has taken us over 3 weeks just to secure a contract --- No easy task, I assure you.

When we inquired to the availability of the 19th, we were told that we were #3 on the list. Really? #3???

We went back to the drawing board. How about the 12th? Nope - there was a wait there, too. The 26th (despite the fact that its my parents' anniversary)? Nope - taken as well. June 5th (my birthday)? The only available date, as luck would have it. And while its certainly not the norm to be married on your birthday, at this point, I couldn't think of a better present :) (and I mean Tom, not the wedding).

And even though this wedding date wasn't our 1st, 2nd, or even 3rd choice, (and as early as yesterday we were trying to be talked into July or August), we're so very excited to have something permanent in this planning process. From here we will begin the search for our caterer (who will undoubtedly play a HUGE role in the day --- food, linens, rentals, etc.) and hopefully make a decision on the photographer. Next on the list? An officiant and florist would be priorities #3 and #4. We're hoping to have contracts signed, deposits down, and plans in place by March, making the rest of the spring and summer relaxed and major-planning free. :)

Go Vote!!!

No matter who you vote for today, just do it!! Don't forget to consider the other issues, like education, that often get lost when discussing the economy, the war, and taxes. As the education platform is extremely close to our hearts, we encourage you to make a thoughtful decision today!

Happy Voting!!

Monday, November 3, 2008

The DIY Crazy-Train

So in my fairly naive state, I believe that I'll have time to make the centerpieces for the reception. Why not, right?? If we keep them fairly simple, there shouldn't be too much work involved...

These are a few inspirations:

Don't you just love those yellow ones??? The bride actually did all of those herself. No, really!
I'm thinking small-ish, 4x4" square, low vases, with the banana leaf wrap inside the vase (like the ones above) filled with fluffy white hydrangeas and some green hypericum berries, so they mimic the bouquets. If we go with blue table linens, then we have the entire scheme all wrapped up. :)
Plus, I'm thinking these could be fairly cost-effective, as hydrangea stems are usually around $3.50/stem, and we'd only need 2 per arrangement. The filler would obviously be low cost as well, and with Hobby Lobby/Jo-Ann/Michael's selling vases for under $4, these will definitely help us stay within budget.
know some of you are probably thinking, "Why not just do candles?" Well, if the reception begins before 3:00 pm, and ending before 8:00 pm, there's really no need. The room is almost ALL windows, negating the "glow" that candles would give off.
Any spectacular centerpiece thoughts out there??